A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Now the silence. Now the peace. Now the time for pondering. Now. Now. Now.
The baby sleeping. The shepherds long departed. Finally a moment for Mary to catch her breath. Finally a chance to let it all sink in. That strange encounter with the angel Gabriel. A holy child born to her barely out of childhood herself? Surely she must have wondered. The baby growing in her womb—evidence to support the angel’s strange claim. And yet I bet she still had her doubts and fears. Her rushed trip to old Elizabeth. The welcome she received there and the amazing song that sprang up from deep within her heart. Joseph welcoming her into his household, keeping his promise even though she came to him pregnant with a baby not of his making. Who could ever make sense of all of this?
The long trip to Bethlehem. Each step she took the baby shifting in her womb. His weight almost too much for her to bear. The fruitless search for a place to spend the night. Collapsing in a corner of a stable. The labor pains. The baby and his cries. Shepherds rushing in. Their wild tale of angels’ songs, a baby born in Bethlehem, a savior for the world. No wonder she treasured their words. No wonder she pondered them in her heart. The shepherds’ words confirmed what God had promised at the get-go.
I love this story—this story of a young girl caught up in something much bigger than herself; this story of God seeking out someone so far from the centers of power to bear and birth God into the world; this story of a baby born in Bethlehem, of shepherds and angels and a manger for a crib. This deep layering of a young girl’s encounter with God.
It's a story. A lovely story. A part of our story. But still a story. It’s not history. There’s no supporting evidence. We don't really know about any of it. And yet I think this story points to some important truths about God and us and God and us together.
For there it is—God coming into the world through the womb of teenager pregnant and unmarried. God born in a stable far from the centers of power. God, child of a couple turned out in the cold. God made known in the most unlikely of people and places.
Mary, the God bearer and God birther, in fits and starts coming to an understanding of God’s role in all of this—sometimes stunned, sometimes taken aback, sometimes more than a little afraid of what is going on in her and through her.
Isn’t that the way of it? Isn’t that the nature of our oh-so-human dance with God? A surprise encounter, a dawning awareness, the pain and fear and wondering that accompany birthings of God in us and our birthings of God? Maybe even some distancing and backing off. Understanding deepening in fits and starts. And then a deep centeredness in God and the peace that comes from groundedness in God. The peace that comes through pondering—pondering the arc of God’s love in our lives and in our world.
In the silence and the quiet of this day, we join with Mary turning over the treasures in our hearts. Taking them out, one by one, bringing to mind the role they played and play today in our on-going life with God. The fat times and the lean ones. The barren places where God somehow broke in. The lush fields and green valleys of our lives. The times of hopes fulfilled. The times of fears relieved and unrelieved. The angels in our midst declaring God’s glory. Shepherds leaving their fields confirming for us the deep truths of our lives. Through it all the thread of God’s life and love in our lives.
Now’s the time for pondering. Now. Now. Now.